The Koha Roundtable

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The news of Kusumi Koharu’s graduation from Morning Musume raised quite a stir in our corner of the J-blogosphere, as coverage here and at Intl Wota can attest. Always open to experiment, I decided to run an ad hoc roundtable to discuss what happened to Koha and what it means for Hello! Project’s future. DH’s regular contributor Vee was of course ready to join in; bloggers / wotachatters Murr and Wendy also threw their hats in the ring. (Unfortunately, illness kept Wendy from doing the last round of questions.)

The roundtable started Sunday night and a major new development – Tsunku making explicit that he ordered Koha’s graduation – occurred while e-mails were flying.

Ray

I’m in a weird position, as I don’t really like the current Morning Musume line-up and haven’t seriously enjoyed any of their singles since “Egao Yes Nude”. (And before that, I think they’ve been hit-and-miss at best since Nacchi and Tsujikago left.) So while there’s a lot of talk about how stable this 9-nin line-up has been, it’s really done little for me as a fan.

However, I DO care about Morning Musume and Hello! Project as an idol organization, and the news of Koharu graduating has that weird effect of throwing wotadom into turmoil and opening up a lot of anxieties and hopes and expectations. It hasn’t made me care about the current Morning Musume exactly, but it leaves open the possibility that I WILL care again in the future. Not only seeing if the graduation changes the dynamic within the current membership, but the even more enticing prospect of new members joining the group so we can fall in love all over again.

And that made me ask a question that may seem obvious, but I haven’t heard answered yet: What took them so long? Not what took them so long to graduate Koha – though this does seem just about the right time in her career for the move – but with ANY change of line-up. What was the reasoning behind keeping the group so stable for so long, when there’s been a tradition of flux and change that helped distinguish the group and keep it consistently fresh? (At least in theory.) Keep in mind, when the group was at its peak, it was changing line-ups with practically every new single. Though of course, that wasn’t the REASON the group was doing so great way-back-when, it was just an interesting by-product.

My guess is that these past two years of stability was to solidify the Morning Musume brand and try to rebuild their flagging sales. They’ve been in a slow download spiral since their sales heyday from the Golden Age, and something needed to be done. The lack of change was meant to be comforting, I assume, and allow the group to be more cohesive and distinct. This seems to have paid off, too, as sales seems to have improved with recent singles. (Some of you can cite the numbers, I don’t have them handy.)

But. With sales improving and the line-up now so familiar to fans, the announcement of Koha’s graduation felt like a sudden, unexpected violence, the disruption of what’s generally considered a good thing.  (Not by me, but certainly by other fans.) In the past, we’d take it for granted, even looked forward to whatever change would come next. Now, it feels a bit more uncertain, and a lot more nerve-wracking.

There’s a good chance I’m working from false assumptions here, that I’m looking at it from the wrong angle. But the question I pose to you is: what took them so long to make a change in the line-up? And why did they decide to do so now? Do you think Morning Musume will get back on the graduation-and-audition treadmill at their familiar old clip, or will we have longer times between such change, as has happened in the past two years?

Vee

The murmur of money springs up from this entire debate, this entire kerfuffle over Koahru, and indeed, over the question itself. Berryz and C-ute were seen to be the more wota-friendly groups since early into their tenures in Wonderful Hearts, and, indeed, perhaps it was the “Wonderful Hearts” business model itself within Hello!Project that put a halt to the “revolving door idol group” complex which kept Morning Musume so engaging and transitorily exciting.

People are throwing around the old graduations here, citing that this is how the idol formula works, that no one should be upset and simply accept Koharu’s graduation and wish her well. But I call bullshit on that, because it makes a stab of desperation, of a changing business model. 9nin Musume was stable for a reason, and while I haven’t been a particularly rabid fan for the last year or so, I have been a LOYAL fan, because I was a fan of the old and therefore, with that, came the responsibility of being a fan of the new. We were lulled into a false sense of security since Yossie’s graduation, I think. Even the addition of JunJun and LinLin was so unexpected and non-heralded that it seemed very smart, very business-like. Wonderful Hearts was Wonderful Hearts. Megumi and Maiha left, but Berryz and C-ute remained, and with the solidarity of the other WH lineups, I suppose as fans we expected to see Morning Musume follow that trend. Sales were slumping, though not for the Kids groups so to speak, who should have been languishing while they were anything but amongst wota.

Maybe it wasn’t just eyecandy and youth appeal, and maybe Tsunku saw this and decided to pursue that tack for Morning Musume. It seemed to work. So why now, why suddenly?

Because it hasn’t worked. Music fans are fickle, and with wota attention turning more to AKB48 (which keeps a solid, personal, consistent bond with its fanbase, going so far as to take the “revolving door idol group” idea *even further* if you factor in Senbatsu polls and shuffles), the established acts are suffering.

Koharu’s graduation is, I try to remain in the spectrum of the sane here, either a move of desperation or a move of strategy. Let’s look at each:

From the desperation angle, it could be something to offer the fans a bidding war on merchandise, tickets, and final vestiges of Miracle-chan. The husky claw grappling for a quick buck before everything burns. Or, from the strategy angle, it could be the direction Morning Musume was moving in from the beginning of Koharu’s induction. Sexier songs, less “kiddy” music, attempts at mainstream friendliness, and about all the excitement of wet sandpaper. For some fans, the recent Morning Musume branding has been hugely successful, and maybe that is why Koharu is being given the boot. I seriously don’t think it is her decision. That comes from my gut – I have no numbers to back it up. But Koharu would have fit in better with Morning Musume prior to 2006, when personalities ranged and flared and shone. She is a sparkplug, and even her voice, horrible as it may be to some (I am not one of those people), does not fit the current mold. She sings with personality. I strain to identify voices in newer singles, but it doesn’t take much, as Ai and Reina usually have the solos sewn up. Voices in Morning Musume are now as mature as they have been since Gen 1, more polished and “produced” than they have ever been, and Koharu just didn’t fit in.

She was a clown. She may have been a uniquely talented, beautiful, wota-pleasing dream of a clown, but the staid, emotive, seductive character of current Morning Musume leads me to believe that either the money wasn’t in the black for the emo approach, and they decided to shake things up using her as an example…. or the money was only barely in the black for the emo approach, and they decided to get rid of the square peg to all those round holes. Ouch, I didn’t mean to end things on such a potentially titillating end.

Murr

This reminds me of Goto’s graduation. Was she not making MM a lot of money during her time there? And then she graduated at the age of 16. I read somewhere, though I can’t exactly remember where, that it had been planned to graduate her at 16. This could be the same situation here. It may have been decided that Koharu was to graduate at 18. Why else would her age be mentioned in the graduation comments by Tsunku? I think it was his (or some higher up’s) intention to graduate her at 18, especially given her money making abilities as Kirari Tsukishima. And I know that we can’t always take their words at face value, he does mention that he wanted to push her towards a solo career. But, Koharu being who she is, maybe decided that no. If she wasn’t to be in MM, then she was going to do what she wanted. Which happened to be modeling. And who was Tsunku to deny Koharu? I think we’ve seen how forceful Koharu’s personality could be.

To me, Koha graduating is a good thing. Maybe Tsunku was stuck in such a rut of putting Koharu front and center that he just didn’t know how to split the lines equally amongst the rest. Now with her out, one undeserving of as many solo lines as she got, the ones who should get attention, Risa, Eri, and LinLin for example, will bring up the vocal standards of the group. I have felt recently that while the voices are far more mature then they have been in comparison to past times in this line-up’s history, she still somehow managed to bring it down with her voice. But that was then, and this is now. Things are changing. And for the better.

It is my hope that this auditions and graduations will occur again. BUT! I want longer times. But again, if you do longer times in between the graduations, fans get comfortable and then get pissed when a seemingly stable line-up changes. This is where I think the problem lies. I think that MM was never meant to be stable like this. Yes, there are a million reasons why it should be and why it shouldn’t, but people still should’ve been prepared for graduations to happen.

ALSO! Maye this is also for attention. Tying somehow with Vee’s desperation strategy, with MM doing a lot of promotion for Nanchatte, then something like “OH NO SOMEONE IS GRADUATING FROM MM” is sure to bring a lot of attention from the press regardless of it being Koharu or not… and therefore a lot of money from those trying to snatch up a lot of goods from the tour and such, whether they be wota or new fan, seeing as it’ll be Koharu’s last.  Hm.

Wendy

Honestly, I haven’t really processed this yet. It’s just such a shock, considering this is my first MM graduation (OMG WHAT A NEWBIE LULZ). I was around for Yossie, but I didn’t care enough at the time to actually react. But even aside from that, it’s still really mind-blowing. Surely many fans thought that Morning Musume’s current line-up would be around for much longer. And even if not, that Aichan and Gaki-san would be the next to go.

But I’ll admit that my money was on Koharu for who would graduate next. Maybe it was just me wishing for it to happen, I can’t say for sure, but I did hope. I mean, this was before all of the Nanchatte promotion but after the song was revealed. I was thinking something like “Well, they never really get to show their personalities to non-fans nowadays.” If I had heard Nanchatte as an outsider, I would’ve honestly been turned off by Koharu’s solo verse. I think that even though she’s one of the few personalities they have left, it won’t do them much good while they’re trying to work their way back to popularity. As Murr said, she brings the vocal quality of the group DOWNNN.

But that’s another thing, right? “Who caaaares, they’re an idol group!” Right? Not really. From the way they’ve been pushing themselves recently, it seems like they’re trying to be more singing group than idol group. That’s how I’m seeing it, anyways. I love my idols, but I think I like it better this way. While silly, genki songs are great sometimes, I end up skipping over them for the more mature songs in my library. I think that Morning Musume’s current look and sound (minus Kimagure) is the best they’ve ever had. My main problem with it is Koharu, which brings me back to what I was saying before. I mean, I think Sayumi did fine in Nanchatte. Koharu’s expressions in the close-ups made me feel embarrassed just by watching. If she were gone, I think that their serious and mature look would go over MUCH better and they’d get more fans in the process.

I’m not trying to hate, though. I’m just trying to see it as it is, business-wise. As a Morning Musume fan, I feel very distressed by this. I cried while listening to the official announcement in the fan recording. Koharu was an important part of the group, just as they all are, and the fact that there was such a long pause between graduations just makes it that much worse. (I know that’s already been said, but yeah.) If this had been a while ago, people would be saying things like “Oh, I hope she succeeds. Sad to see her go.” or something. Most likely. But now, because it’s been so long without a graduation, everybody’s going “OMG NOT KOHARU OMG THIS ISN’T FAIR HOW CAN THEY DO THIS? WHY HER?” I think the dramatic reactions are more about the thought of a graduation than Koharu herself graduating… People would’ve said that for ANY member, I bet. I mean, that’s why I’m upset. This line-up was my favourite, and it’s a huge shock to see it broken, even if she was the one I wanted to see go first.

Ray

I love Vee’s idea that Koha would have fit into MM better in the earlier days. Her outsized personality and natural charisma certainly would’ve made her a strong contender for fourth gen – and that’s intended as a high compliment.

Taking a step back from Morning Musume in particular to Hello! Project as it currently stands, are they in a good place right now? Are we reaching a critical juncture, now that Berryz and C-ute are just about on equal footing with Morning Musume? As this year’s loss of two C-ute member shows, the H!P Kids are now old enough that we can expect the same kind of personnel issues that have long been a part of MM. The H!P Eggs are now coming into their own, just as the H!P Kids did several years ago, more of the J.V. squad fighting for Varsity level idol roles.

I’m not sure what to make of it. On the one hand, the one H!P idol that interests me nowadays is an Egg, Maeda Yuuka. I actually agree that she’s the future of H!P – at least, my own future as an H!P wota. As a result, I have to wonder if there hasn’t been ENOUGH culling of the H!P personnel. Getting rid of the Elder Club should have led to graduating fifth and sixth gens in rapid succession, too.

Now, I’ll admit I don’t like Takahashi Ai and Niigaki Risa, so I’d love to see them leave Morning Musume and go solo or whatever. In both their cases, they’ve put in enough time and deserve to do solo work now – certainly, Takitty’s been primed for it. (Though whether she has enough of a personality to carry a solo career is something I doubt… Gaki, though, should have no problem.)

However, I also think that the leaner, more dynamic H!P post-Elder Club is still too bound to its past. I used to argue that Morning Musume would best work now as a nostalgia group with the Golden Age members going around and doing the Golden Era hits. They can tour with Pink Lady and a re-united WINK and make good money that way.

If they’re NOT going that route – and it’s clear they won’t – it’s time to really shake things up again and remember that idols are a youth thing. And yes, Koha’s graduation is as good a trigger as any. She’s turning eighteen, she’s over the hill – well, there’s a lot  of other old timers still around, too. H!P would best be served if the newest young stars, the Eggs – who’ve been groomed for over half a decade now, at least – finally take over the spotlight completely. What are they waiting for? Their idol sell-by date is rapidly approaching and going to pass them by.

I want my Yuuka bikini photobook NOW NOW NOW.

Returning back to the bigger picture, at the start of this decade, H!P was the gold standard of idols, it was like they could do no wrong and anything they did would garner media attention. Now, that’s no longer the case. Is the current H!P a competitive enough idol organization? AKB is indeed giving them a run for the money, and even SKE48 now has their own TV show. Perfume sell better than either of those groups and are probably the defining face of Japanese girlpop at the moment. And let’s face it, the Johnny’s machinery is much more powerful – and more pervasive in Japanese society and pop culture – than any current girl group. Do little girls still aspire to be in Morning Musume? Or do they want to be in AKB, or be the next Perfume, or just marry a Hey! Say! Jump boy?

Does H!P still need to be that gold standard of idols, or should they settle for simply surviving and maintaining what momentum they can find? Have the decisions of the last year or so helped them or hurt them in that respect? And what do you think needs to happen in H!P, looking forward to an unsteady future? I think they need to embrace change and really go for the young blood while the getting’s good. I’m sure there are other, different opinions from you all on what best suits
the organization.

Vee

I actually couldn’t agree more with Ray. I was absolutely stunned by the news of Elder Club Mass Graduation, but after I saw Melon Kinenbi (omg favorite foreVAR) still creating music and generally living their post-H!P lives as one big hetero-life-commune, Yossie and Rika shilling around as hAngry & Angry (under the auspices of UFA events, no less… hm…), and Gomaki making a major dent in avex’s usually-impenetrable glass castle, I calmed down and came to a realization: the girls won’t go away even if they graduate, even if they leave to pursue studies, even if they get caught being untoward on several occasions and resurface as disturbing nipple-mummies a couple of years later.

Hello!Project is a dead horse that is being beaten, and it’s starting to turn in the sun of acts like Perfume, AKB, and the Kpop invasion (as I remarked after watching ‘Gee’ for the first time: “they’re a better Morning Musume than Morning Musume”). So, what I consider best for H!P may be nothing less than reactionary vitriol: dissolve the whole thing, regroup, and rebuild.

Morning Musume has steadily and successfully been rebranding itself, as I mentioned earlier and everyone else seems to agree. Most of the fans I interact with online prefer this new approach, but as a bitter, crotchety oldbie I agree with Ray that retired members touring dinner shows with Golden Era standards would have been a better way to go. However, the rebranding is *working*, to one degree or another. It may not be making them a contender with Perfume or into a whole new, just-as-phenomenal version of an IDOL group, but Wendy put it well in saying that they are, now more than ever, a singing group. Yes, even Sayumi. Bless her heart, she’s trying. Koharu’s exit can be viewed as a means to an end if I want to support this proposal, so it makes me feel just a bit better.

Living in Wonderful Hearts Land is strange, schmaltzy, and nostalgic to the point of bafflement. Gone should be the days of such ridiculous costumes, such over-girlified young ladies. If the success of AKB and Perfume has taught us anything, it is that less can be more when it comes to the visuals. Morning Musume are riding this edge of the “in with the new” mentality hard, and are succeeding with the younger generation. Certainly the wota may cry foul, but most of them are just going to end up hopping over to an AKB concert anyway. The diehard faithfuls are going to complain no matter what, but Tsunku and all of UFA must evaluate the state of the idol industry, and, indeed, what it means to be an idol in Japan heading into the 2010’s. It’s not all sequins and hair glitter and spastic dance moves and appealing to the lowest common denominator (wota) anymore.

Being an idol is about sexiness more than it has ever been. Even in Korea, the purported “virginal” acts such as SNSD and the re-tooled KARA exude a just-beneath-the-surface, girl next door fuckability. I hope you will all forgive me for being so crass, but I’d like to reach into my bag of quotes here and pull out one that always intrigued me, from a Marilyn Monroe biography years and years ago. Attribution escapes me, now, but during filming for the infamous “subway grate” scene in ‘The Seven Year Itch’, it was remarked that Hollywood was making a bold effort to “come as close as possible to the subject of hot pussy while staying in the cool of the innocent.” It can be argued that the same is happening with J-Pop, it is only becoming more bold-faced.

Little girls may want to grow up to be idols, yes, but I’ve seen a peculiar evolution in my own fandom, observing the teenagers I chat with and admire on YouTube who dub themselves singing and tape themselves dancing to Asian Pop songs. Sometime last year, a shift was made to include so much more Kpop – in the dancing, especially. Certainly, there was a massive back catalog of challenging and beautiful H!P dances the girls could have gone with, but as one memorably said on her profile, “I’m too old to be dancing to H!P anymore, don’t you think?” She was 16 years old at the time. H!P has become a joke, and I think the joke is on the wota. Morning Musume is not the American Idol of Japan anymore (which is a strange statement to make, as the chicken came long before that egg). Morning Musume can become a group on its own, at this point, it can be free to reinvent the wheel of its own brand, it can be as mature and sexy as it wants. I’d love to go back to the glory days and spout off who I’d love to see graduate, but the ship has sailed. They are different now, and I don’t care if Saki Ogawa and Fukuda Kanon are tapped to join the group, it would seem too *weird*, too *incongruent*. Free Morning Musume, let them be an 8-nin ballad-crooning all-singing all-dancing “serious act”.

But what to do about Berryz Koubou? What to do about C-ute? I weep to consider these questions, because if Morning Musume flies and the H!P concept is deconstructed, there will be no place for these girls. C-ute has changed, evolved, and been so hit-or-miss despite my absolute love for them, that speaking objectively I wouldn’t blame UFA for folding them after a Fall of the H!P Empire. But Berryz. Berryz are a different matter.

Berryz are the last vestiges of the happy, genki, *genuine* cool of the innocent. Buono!, as well. Everything about those two groups is solid and works, despite some crap circumstances being handed to Berryz occasionally. Buono!, however, could possibly lead a new branding, a remergence of H!P itself. The Eggs would fall in line, and if Tsunku didn’t mind not trying to be the innovator for two seconds, he could take a cue from the enormously entertaining Senbatsu system of AKB. Release shuffle singles, continue with the Egg concerts, retain all those rights to all those songs that all those wota love, and keep Berryz and Buono! on as wise, upbeat onee-sans who can still dress in ridiculous outfits and sing ridiculous songs and get away with it – with *aplomb*, at that. Buono! broke gorund by performing with a live band, and I was truly amazed to see it. It would keep Airi in the fold, and the only major loss I would see from this re-structuring would be Maimi. However, I don’t think Maimi would have any trouble finding work elsewhere. Modeling, singing, dancing, you name it. A label would be lucky to have her, and maybe by going solo she could finally escape all those “Maimi is an attention whore” comments.

Berryz, Buono!, and the Eggs. Of course it wouldn’t be Hello!Project anymore, and some other changes might occur in the process (more Eggs? less Eggs?), but look at how much it benefited N*Sync and the Backstreet Boys to stick around past the prime of boy bands in the USA. Justin Timberlake, however, has gone on to be the new Tsunku of America, even producing for Duran Duran. You can’t please all the people, all the time, and you certainly can’t expect to keep making money by pleasing only wota all the time. To continue to be a money machine, H!P must get with the times, and the times changed long ago.

I miss those times. I really do, and I pine for them a lot, but Korea seems to be feeding my need, and damn if Perfume isn’t just fine. So I’d like to see more from these mysterious, long-ignored Eggs, and more attention paid to Buono! in the process. H!P got too big without the financial base to support all the artists with equal opportunity. With a compressed membership and a new, not-necessarily-innovative but certainly media-savvy business model, composers and arrangers could work more closely to keep their ears to the ground for trends and directions, while more money could be spent on promoting the girls (photobooks, photobooks, photobooks!!) without the need for ten different covers of four different pressings of two different LE versions of the same single every four months.

Tsunku may have perfected the idol formula for his time, but that time is gone and it won’t be long before even the wota wise up, grow up, or hand over the torch to a new generation who are expecting things like teenage girls in super-tight jeans and high heels, not questionably-aged girls dressed in feathery flamenco outfits flailing around haphazardly. Don’t be afraid to get your sexy on, New H!P of the Future.

Lastly, throw Mano Erina down a well. Okay, I’m done with this round.

Wendy

Honestly, I’m not even really sure what I want to see done with Hello!Project. I don’t think that everything should just be regrouped. I mean, I’m still pretty upset over the AKB48 regrouping. I think that they should just work on improving what they have right now, which is what they seem to be trying to do. I like that Morning Musume is going for a mature look. I want them to maintain that and hopefully succeed even further once Koharu is out of the picture. For Berryz, I think that they should keep being the “experimental” group while they’re still young. Morning Musume’s getting too old to be silly right now, and idols should be more genki than serious. But even though I can say that, I don’t think they’re too old in general. I think they have the potential to get popular again if they keep using the same girls as leads. (Maybe minus Sayumi.) If you’re going for a mature, classy vibe, you can’t have the “well, atleast she’s trying” singers getting solo lines. Genki songs don’t really require talent, but ballads sound like crap like that.

Back onto the topic of the kids, I don’t think C-ute is going anywhere. Maybe I’m just being biased in the sense that I don’t like C-ute, but they just don’t really seem like a group to me. They don’t have many stellar songs, and the ones that are good are also kind of risque in my opinion. Only two girls sing most of the time, and I think there is a reason for that. The others aren’t… very good. My problem with their singing isn’t that only two girls sing, it’s that the rest of them sound pretty awful when they do sing. I think that they should just collapse C-ute sometime soon and have the girls go off to do other things. Buono! will still be around because whether I like it or not, they’re very popular and talented. I’d like if Buono! focused a bit more on the members’ future solo careers (fingers crossed!), doing things like having solo songs on albums and in concerts. Make Maimi one of those soloists who release more gravure than music, put Mai and Nakki in a group or something, do something interesting with Chisa… or maybe put Mai and Chisa together so that Nakki can be in a fierce dancing duo with Captain (as a second group for Captain, of course.)

The Eggs always seemed kind of hopeless to me. Awkward-looking girls who didn’t do anything. That is, until I watched one of their concerts and ended up thinking how much talent is being wasted. But now, the Eggs are getting used more and more, and I think that more groups will be made (or Eggs will be added to already existing groups) to show off their abilities. They’re the only young blood that’s left in the company right now and they’ll need to be used soon, considering idols do indeed age. (I know there’s Frances and Aiko, but those children scare me and I don’t like them.) I think the best thing to do would be to make several new groups that AREN’T just anime groups, and gear them towards different demographics. Also, the project needs more soloists (Ai, Risa, Eri, Airi, Miyabi?) other than Mano. Speaking of Mano, she needs to stop playing the piano. That gimmick’s getting annoying.

But then, what about auditions? What about getting NEW girls? As Ray said, “Do little girls still aspire to be in Morning Musume?” I think that for now, they shouldn’t really risk trying to hold auditions. They have lots of girls without work already, and I can’t help but doubt how many people would actually audition in the end. People are paying more attention to, like Ray mentioned, AKB48 and Perfume. AKB48’s getting really popular lately, and there are many “Perfume ripoffs” popping up. I agree with Vee when she says that H!P really needs to get with the times, even though I really don’t like comparing my different fandoms (my fandoms clearly being H!P, Perfume and AKB48). But on that note, I want to mention how a lot of fans are “ditching” in the sense that some people are TOO GOOD for Hello!Project now. I think that, to keep that group of fans and gain new fans, they should have several new acts like I mentioned earlier and just try lots of different things to appeal to a lot more people. But not just different things; things that are actually IN right now.

I’m gonna stop there to prevent myself from rambling and repeating myself more than I already have.

Murr

H!P needs to catch up on the times. I do NOT think more graduations should be held. Especially in regards to the 5th gen. Morning Musume I’m sure is just as shaken up by this graduation as the fans are. Strong leadership is needed to help them through these troublesome times. And as Ai have led them up to now, I think she should be around for at least six months more to get them on stable ground. And then, maybe, just maybe, she should graduate. The thing about the 5th generation is that both are still young! It’s not as if they were Kaorin when she looked far beyond her years. I mean, even Yuko was in MM at the age of 24. So give them a break. And THEN. When both are ready, will I be comfortable with Gaki and Ai graduating, hopefully into a duo, with Gaki being the main personality.

Berryz, I think, is a very stable group. I see nothing about them changing. If that’s good or bad, I have yet to decide on that. It’s the same theory I had earlier about stability in a group. C-ute I feel is going nowhere. They release consistently weak singles and even weaker b-sides. Airi looks very comfortable in Buono! (and sounds better too) and Maimi looks more comfortable doing photo work and modelling, so I can easily see her going the way of Erika. I never felt her voice was right for the leading role she has taken in C-ute. As for the other three? How about creating a new unit, promoting Eggs, with those three as the leads? Chisato can sing, we know that, though there is still room for her voice to improve. I don’t know which Eggs I would suggest be promoted, seeing as I really don’t pay much attention to them, but I’m sure there are enough there!

The thing about there being more artists in H!P would mean Tsunku stretching himself thin writing music for more groups/soloists. Therefore, I propose he hire other lyricists and producers so that some of the work is taken off of himself, giving him more time to spend on the big three (if indeed three are still around).

And clearly little girls do still want to be in MM. Some AKBers have mentioned wanting to be in MM at first. AKB seems much easier to get into, because they are newer in terms of idoldom and therefore more flexible about what girls they are willing to let into the group. That brings up a good point though. Maybe Tsunku, and by extension H!P, is so stuck in those rigid standards for their idols, like the boyfriend clause and the limited contact that they have with their fans, that they aren’t selling that well and girls aren’t lining up to be let into the very public and frequent auditions for Eggs. Maybe if things like that were less strict, they would sell better. And AGAIN become the leading force in the idol industry in Japan.

The last year, I think, has helped. With the trimming of the Elder Club and the graduations of several not-very-big players in H!P, more money has started to go into the productions of the big three. It’s nice. I enjoy what has recently been put out by Berryz and MM, though not C-ute too much. Buono! puts out amazing stuff, though hopefully they jump off that anime soundtrack track and become a legit group outside of that. The PVs have gotten better, you have to admit. And I LOVE the turn MM has taken recently. Maturity is something that’s taken into account when one listens to a ‘real artist’. It’s not as if they are emo. If you can’t deal with this tone then turn to the Eggs and Mano Erina (who I think should be removed from H!P’s roster). But I think they are in the middle of a revival whose effects have yet to be seen. Here’s hoping I’m right and not being overly hopeful.

Ray

So one last question, and any final thoughts you may have.

The question: where do you see Koharu a year from now? For that matter, where do you see Morning Musume and Hello! Project in general? Will losing their anime star have a devastating effect, or just be another ripple in the pond?

I think Koha is going to thrive outside of Hello! Project. Her gig on Oha Star will continue, and she may well wind up playing a more central role on that show since she won’t have any Morning Musume duties to consider. As a model, I’m sure she can at least get some Sabra-level eyecandy work, and maybe secure a CM or two. I dunno, I like Koha and think there’s a great deal of growth and potential still left in her. Do I see her singing in the future? Probably not, unless it’s an anime tie-in and she can get all goofy crackheaded again. That said, continuing as a seiyuu may well be the only way she’ll grace the shores of the United States, working the major anime conventions.

As for Morning Musume and Hello! Project – well, one or two new members in MM before next summer. Contrary to what I’d want to see, there will be auditions instead of getting talent from the H!P Eggs. I can think of at least four Eggs who’d do a great deal for revitalizing Morning Musume: Maeda Yuuka, Kitahara Sayaka, Kikkawa Yuu, and that one who looks like a mini-Aibon whose name I always forget. Mano Erina will become the new Maeda Yuki of H!P, except hotter and jailbait-ier. C-ute will continue to do well, as will Berryz, but Buono! will be the standout act and make their way to Anime Expo and/or Otakon next year.

As for whether or not I’ll care about H!P again… Well, I WANT to. I seriously want to. But there needs to be a shake-up and a change in focus, as I’ve detailed earlier. The idol business is as much about novelty as anything else, and H!P has grown moribund in many respects. The fact that Tsunku apparently ordered Koha’s ouster – presumably for her own good – may be a sign that he’s willing to shake things up now, as well. In which case, I hope he’s inspired enough to surprise us some more.

Murr

Basically, I feel that this change in lineup, albeit one that has been stable for a while, is a very good thing. And a new piece of information was made known by Tsunku on his blog. This was SUDDENLY thrust upon Koharu, even though she came to terms with it. He said that it was best to announce these things suddenly, though he may have been sitting on it for a while. So while she had no plans to graduate, she still managed to make the situation her own by taking the initiative to go further than just graduating from MM and making it a graduation from H!P also, to go into modeling, though she still has her role on Oha Star. This might be a sign that Tsunku is losing control of his girls, assuming he ever had complete control over them in the first place.

I don’t know where any of them will end up in a year. The pop culture world of Japan is very wishy-washy, where the only stable element I can see are old cartoons, like Shin-chan and Sasae-san, and SMAP. (I still don’t understand how things like that manage to stay alive.) I hate the way nostalgia works in Japan. But because of stuff like that manages to survive, I think MM will survive. And with surviving comes the addition of more girls. Because I don’t think any Eggs are gonna be added anytime soon, as Ray said, I think that Tsunku should add FOUR more girls. FOUR. More than one, instead of having all his hope ride on one girl.

Also, a year from now, I expect to see Koharu on Hexagon. Honestly. And if not Hexagon, then making the rounds on other variety shows and the covers of various fashion magazines like AnAn. Maybe even another voice acting role on another anime. I don’t know. I honestly don’t really care. She could fade from the public for all that I give two shits. But as a former member of my beloved Morning Musume, as long as she’s doing something that makes her happy in life, I’m set. That’s the most that I can ask for really.

Vee

I don’t like speculating on where someone will be within a year – anything can happen in a year, as we’ve seen happen with idols like Nono, Kaori (bless her soul), and, in the Kpop case, Jaebeom. To “play Nostradamus”, as the blogosphere likes to say, would ultimately be pointless.

However, in light of what we’ve all learned between the time I wrote part two and this wrap-up, I have a slightly more open hand to postulate. Tsunku came right out to say that it was his decision – a move that seems, like so much else about this entire situation, a business move. I’d say it supports the “strategy” theory. However, the clincher of all speculation lies in the issued statement that Koharu Kusumi is graduating from Morning Musume AND HELLO!PROJECT. UFA, who knows. But we know what she won’t be doing, where she won’t be appearing.

Now, seeing Koharu as a soloist is not something I’d want for her outside of the insane world of H!P. Modeling, however, I can live with. This whole “she was pushed” revelation is, however, tremendous, as it does open up the possibility that Miracle-chan was never meant to continue beyond her 18th birthday, and maybe that is why she was pushed to do so much, why she was given so much so few had been offered before, why she was incubated as an idol in full view of the world rather than allowed a natural, slow transformation like Gaki or Takahashi.

Maybe Koha is being released back into “the wild”, so to speak, so that she can tell her story and prove that H!P doesn’t necessarily break its idols in the process of creating them.

I don’t see Koha leaving the spotlight – the spotlight is her home. Remember those early interviews where she said she idolized former Musume Yuko Nakazawa? I don’t see too much of a stretch, despite the glaringly polar personalities. Koha is a workaholic and an ambassador of the new school of idoldom just as Nakazawa and Yaguchi were just a few years ago.

No doubt that whatever Koha does, I will support it whole-heartedly. I come from a deep, loving place when I say that, so take it for a fact. I just hope it’s something unexpected, like Kaori’s avant-garde artistic and musical work. Or here’s an idea…. Koharu should work with younger idols. She seems to be a great mentor, and with only a few more years and some solid non-performance training I would love to see her as a spectacular and inspiring onee-san to aspiring idols. Who knows what her hidden talents are, but I think she has many we’ve not been privy to in deference to the Miracle-chan agenda. Modeling is an obvious one, and her acting (not as Kirari) has the potential to flourish.

Koharu was given the chance every little girl wanted, and now she can show us all what she’s learned, without the constraints of her prescribed “image”.

Whatever she ends up doing, I am already smiling in anticipation. And I must say, this whole roundtable has left me in MUCH higher spirits over the situation.

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One Response to “The Koha Roundtable”
  1. Tsukiki says:

    Great post, guys. I thought “idol theory” was an oxymoron at first, but I have been proved wrong. 😀

    I just have to comment on what Vee said, “composers and arrangers could work more closely to keep their ears to the ground for trends and directions.” I think a major step in that happening, and any H!P reform in general, needs to be Tsunku letting someone else handle producing the music. He’s has some great ones, but no one can keep writing new, fresh ideas for forever. He writes ALL of H!P’s music (seriously, every single song that has ever been released by a H!P group), and I think that definitely needs to change (see: AKB48, SNSD, Wonder Girls, etc.).

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